When you’re the only game on the market, it can be difficult to avoid falling into a state of complacency.
There can be a feeling from many that yearly sports titles are nothing more than $60 roster updates from developers, and that can be a major turnoff for potential players. Since becoming the sole simulation offering for baseball fans in 2013 however, MLB The Show has done a stellar job of improving year over year to continually justify the annual purchase.
Expectations are often set high for a franchise that has shown the ability to continuously add to its offering with seemingly every installment, but the risk is always there that a release will fall flat on its face with fans.
MLB The Show 17 takes the field this season hoping to convince both casual and dedicated fans of the series that this year is a can’t miss offering from Sony San Diego Studios (SDS).
The three primary modes — Franchise, Road to the Show, Diamond Dynasty — return to the field with all of them seeing improvements in various ways.
Diamond Dynasty, while much the same as last year, sees a number of small yet rewarding improvements. First, the customization options for your team have improved immensely, allowing everyone to have the most unique team possible. Hell, the logo creation tool is arguably one of the best in-game creation tools across the landscape of sports gaming.
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In addition to the customization, Diamond Dynasty features over 2,000 player cards to collect as well as a number of new ways to earn XP, cards and stubs throughout without the need to actually invest more money. It’s trying to compete with the Ultimate Team modes from EA Sports, and it’s clearly in the conversation for the best card-based mode in a sports title.
If only they would bring the team customization from Diamond Dynasty into other modes like Franchise.
Franchise Mode didn’t see much in terms of big new features, but the additions do help those looking to progress through seasons quicker. You can play through the games locked on a specific player, utilize the new Quick Manage feature that allows you to act as a manager without stepping on the field, or take part in major moments of a specific game via the new Critical Situations option that stops a game sim when something warrants attention.
The new player quirks also offer a new way to manage your team as they help you better understand the type of players on your roster, in your system, and who you may want — or not want — to target in the future.
Road to the Show (RTTS) is the mode that arguably saw the most attention during development.
SDS has turned RTTS from a mode where you play and a practice on a seemingly endless cycle to a full-fledged RPG-style mode. Given the name “Pave Your Path”, RTTS is shown to players as though they were watching a documentary. A narrator describes the situation playing out on screen while you select the dialogue via a conversation window.
From looking out for yourself as a player to doing what’s good for the team, you now have a number of ways to go about your career from hopeful prospect to baseball hall of famer.
With the new dialogue options in Road to the Show, one of the biggest worries was the potential for it to become repetitive rather quickly. Unfortunately, the fears were realized after only a few hours of playing. It gets to the point where you can find yourself zoning out during the conversations because the predictable nature of the events.
Lastly, the new major point of the game is Retro Mode which aims to be the pick-up-and-play offering from SDS. It’s only available as a quick play mode, but it’s a solid mode to go to when you want to do something fun with friends who don’t really enjoy the finer and more detailed aspects of baseball.
Other modes like Challenge of the Week, Online Franchise and Home Run Derby also make their expected returns.
Matt Vasgersian returns as the voice of The Show, but this year he is flanked by two new members of the broadcast booth in Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac.
The addition of two new voices as well as full MLB Network broadcast branding increase the authenticity of the game’s production. From the opening music to the discussions about leaving a pitcher on the mound for too long, it’s easy to get lost into thinking that you’re listening to an actual TV broadcast. That is until framerates drop a bit during transitions. Then you get back to realizing that you are playing a video game.
There also comes a time when the commentary starts to repeat quicker than expected. It’s a disappointment, but not completely surprising due to the limited amount of lines they have at their disposal with Plesac and Reynolds. One has to expect that things will only get better as the years go one, and more lines are recorded for the game.
With Sony San Diego Studios no longer releasing The Show on PlayStation 3, the entire development team was able to put more focus into harnessing the true power of the PlayStation 4 for visuals. And boy, you can really tell the difference.
Players now look more detailed than ever before, and it gives off the feeling that the game jumped into a new generation of visuals while staying on the same console. The plastic-like look is gone with a more textured model being used.
To grasp just how impressive the graphics are in The Show, you should really spend some time looking at replays. Browsing ballparks and zooming in on players during different moments really helps highlight just how incredible the game looks.
On the field is where you can really see the improvements that come from an entire team focusing on one version of a game as opposed to split development.
From the batting physics to the numerous new animations, the game just has a certain flow and feel to it that hasn’t been in the game before. The path a ball takes upon leaving the bat is rarely ever the same thanks to new physics-based hitting mechanics that can see a ball hug the line all the way to the wall, or curve foul just before reaching the bag.
It may not seem like much to casual fans, but experienced players of The Show are sure to start using the new trajectories to their advantage. Maybe you want to swing just above a pitch in order to try a swinging bunt, or what about intentionally chasing to try and ride the first-base line? Really anything is possibly when standing in the hitter’s box.
Fielding has also seen improvement thanks to the aforementioned animation improvements. Players rarely, if ever, look like robots moving towards the ball anymore. Instead, you’ll see some players react poorly to fly balls, or read a play perfectly to make the out.
Online struggles have been as common with MLB The Show as anything else over the last handful of years, and this year appears no different. Though general stability problems — which are improving as the hours pass — can be attributed to the game recently launching, the same problems from the last few seasons still rear their ugly head time and time again during online contests.
Lag spikes when fielding, pitching or taking swings can often derail the best online game. Even lag while navigating menus within Diamond Dynasty itself can turn people away, but that I’m going to chalk up to early release issues that will be fixed sooner rather than later.
From Franchise to Diamond Dynasty to Retro Mode, MLB The Show 17 has something for everyone. The developers touched on every mode available in the game, and made them all better in some way, shape or form.
As is the case with any yearly release, we’ll never see a complete major overhaul of a game, and there’s always the risk of the game becoming stale.
MLB The Show 17 feels more like an evolutionary step in the series as opposed to a major change in formula while doing everything in its power to avoid becoming a stale experience. When you are building upon an already stable model that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but one has to wonder how much longer it can go before fans start to want even more.
Nevertheless, MLB The Show 17 is a great installment, and no matter how long it’s been since you last picked up The Show — even if you still play The Show 16 — this game is worth the pick up.